Saturday, February 2, 2008

Evangelical Politics: A Discussion, 1

(Note: This post and the comments it generates have the potential to be rather controversial, please vigorously assert, defend, and interact. However, we ask that you do so with passionate kindness. Things will likely get more controversial as this book discussion goes forward).

What John McCain is to the Republican Party, Ronald J. Sider is to the Evangelical Movement. Sider consistently locates himself within the movement of evangelicalism, but just as consistently he refuses to toe the party line. For years he has pointed out evangelical blindspots and sins.

Sider just came out with a new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (BakerBooks, February 2008).
I'm sure the timing of its release was no accident. With evangelicals being, arguably, the difference in the last two general elections, Sider and BakerBooks wanted to release this work at a time when our nation is again embroiled in political debate.

I don't at all want to endorse this book. I just today picked it up and started reading it; it just came out yesterday. Rather, I'd like to use the book and its chapters as an impetus for some interactive discussion here on Christians in Context. So, let's get started:

Chapter One is titled "Tragic Failure, New Opportunity." As the title shows, Sider is not at all bashful about his position: he says at one point "Christian political activity today is a disaster." He briefly details how evangelicals went from little to no political involvement in the mid 1960s, to being so heavily involved that they brought Reagan into the White House in 1980. The problem, Sider says, is that there has been very, very little evangelical reflection on how and why we do politics. "Grounded in an emotional fervor that characterized the revivalism that so powerfully shaped evangelicals, their political activity was populist, based on intuition and simplistic biblical proof-texting rather than systematic reflection." The result, according to Sider, is confusion and inconsistency on a number of matters. He notes:
  • Our commitment to human rights focuses almost solely on abortion, and we do little for the millions of children who die every year of starvation or the millions of adult who are killed by tobacco smoke.
  • Our inconsistency on matters of governmental control: when it comes to issues of healthcare, welfare, and charity, we declare that the individuals and churches should start and finance these programs, not the federal government. However, when it comes to issues of marriage, abortion, pornography, we want the government to take legislative action. Sider says that this is an apparent inconsistency that we need to justify or jettison.
  • Overall, Sider says that there is a dearth of Christian political action for things such as racism, environmental protection, or the empowerment of the poor.
Sider contrasts the confused and convoluted evangelicals with the Catholics and the Mainline denominations; they've got a thought-out, mostly consistent political philosophy, and we don't. According to Os Guinness, there has been "no serious evangelical public philosophy in this [twentieth] century."

Sider seems to say that one of two things will happen: either we will implode upon ourselves politically, and revert to isolationism, or we will come up with some type of orthodox public policy.

He gives two reasons why we should do the latter:

1. Practically, evangelicals can do good in the world if they are politically active: the church could have probably stopped Hitler from coming to power in pre-WWII Germany if it had not been slumbering, and imagine if William Wilberforce had been politically apathetic!

2. Theologically, Jesus is the Lord of our life, and he must be Lord even over our public, political lives. As Sider says "the obligation to vote responsibly follows necessarily from my confession that Christ my Lord calls me to love my neighbor."

If you wouldn't mind participating, please provide thoughts on any of the following:

Does the church align itself too closely with any one party or any one cause?

What elements of our two main parties (Republican/Democrat) are incompatible with the Christian faith?

What do you think about Sider's contention that the pro-life position of Christians is too narrowly focused on abortion?

What do you think of all the talk of providing healthcare for all citizens? Should we as Christians support this or fight against it?

Matt

4 comments:

stonz512 said...

Does the church align itself too closely with any one party or any one cause?

I think the church aligns itself with the Republican Party because they have stronger moral committments in critical areas and more intelligent positions on most issues.

What elements of our two main parties (Republican/Democrat) are incompatible with the Christian faith?

I think the socialist tendencies of the Democratic Party are incompatiable with Christianity because it disrespects individual rights.

I also think capital punishment, supported more by the Republican Party, is incompatible with our faith. I can't imagine Jesus supporting it.

What do you think about Sider's contention that the pro-life position of Christians is too narrowly focused on abortion?

No, I think Christians need to be more active in advocating the protection of babies. I think abortion is so grievous that it deserves a particular focus.

What do you think of all the talk of providing healthcare for all citizens? Should we as Christians support this or fight against it?

Fight it. Nobody should be forced to pay for another person's benefit. Healthcare should be paid for by those receiving the healthcare. Charity can provide a safety net for circumstances in which someone truly cannot afford healthcare.

Matthew Wilcoxen said...

Hey Stonz,

Thanks so much for taking part. I think I agree with most of what you've said. I find it interesting, however, that the "stronger moral commitments" that the Republicans are known for are only two-fold: the issue of homosexuality and the issue of abortion (I am virulently opposed to both!)

I always hear that the Democratic party is more interested in helping the poor and minorities. I'm not sure whether this is true or not. If the Republicans fit the stereotype of being uninvolved in aiding the lower class, then I think that that is morally repugnant.

I too think abortion deserves the particularly hard-stance that the Republicans have taken on it. I hope that this continues.

I find myself conflicted when it comes to the issue of health care: I think that everyone should be covered. But I need some hard facts on this issue, because when I was growing up, my single mom wasn't covered, but we had welfare and medicare. So, I'm wondering at this point, who are all these people that aren't covered? I'm not saying they aren't there, but I now dwell in the middle-class and I am ignorant on the issue. This election period will be a great time of learning for me.

Norman Jeune III said...

stonz 512, thanks for your comment! I just have one question about your answer to the final question in your post dealing with whether or not one should support healthcare for all citizens. You said, and I quote:

"Fight it. Nobody should be forced to pay for another person's benefit. Healthcare should be paid for by those receiving the healthcare. Charity can provide a safety net for circumstances in which someone truly cannot afford healthcare."

This is one sissue in particular where I think most mainline Christian Republican miss the point (with all due respect). In response I hhave a few questions for you:

1. Realistically, do you think charity covers all cases where someone is legitimately in need of healthcare? If not, why, and what would you propsose to set in place in order to ensure that people in need get connected with those charitable organizations?

2. When you say that only those paying for healthcare should receive it, what is the basis for that comment, and do you think that this position in consistent with Christian theology. Has God given man everything that he deserves or has "paid" for?

3. Do you really feel that paying for universal healthcare is something you would be forced to do? If you knew that many people in legitiamte need would be helped, even though there are cases of abuse, would that not be enough to justify it for you. Would it not be considered an act of servant-hood to make such a sacrifice, and do you think servant-hood and sacrifice is consistent with the gospel?

I'm sorry if this seems somewhat uncharitable, but it returns us to the original point raised by Sider and summarized by Matt:

"Our inconsistency on matters of governmental control: when it comes to issues of healthcare, welfare, and charity, we declare that the individuals and churches should start and finance these programs, not the federal government. However, when it comes to issues of marriage, abortion, pornography, we want the government to take legislative action. Sider says that this is an apparent inconsistency that we need to justify or jettison."

Since your view seems to fit this profile, I was wondering if you might be able to offer the wider audience a justified basis for this apparent inconsistency.

Respectfully- Norman Jeune III

Tim Bushong said...

If you don't mind, I'll try to give some cogent answers to these Q's...

1. Realistically, do you think charity covers all cases where someone is legitimately in need of healthcare? If not, why, and what would you propsose to set in place in order to ensure that people in need get connected with those charitable organizations?

2. When you say that only those paying for healthcare should receive it, what is the basis for that comment, and do you think that this position in consistent with Christian theology. Has God given man everything that he deserves or has "paid" for?

Good question, especially where salvation is concerned- if we got what we deserved or worked for, then we all die.

3. Do you really feel that paying for universal healthcare is something you would be forced to do? If you knew that many people in legitiamte need would be helped, even though there are cases of abuse, would that not be enough to justify it for you. Would it not be considered an act of servant-hood to make such a sacrifice, and do you think servant-hood and sacrifice is consistent with the gospel?

Questions 1 and 2:

We have to ask at the outset- why is healthcare so darned expensive? In large part it's because there has been, since the mid-60's, medical government subsidies that artificially drove prices higher than they otherwise would have been. It's a form of the slow but sure "breaking" of a system, and the 'fix' coming from the same entity that broke it. So if the entity is taken out of the way (no more subsidies- Medicare, Medicaid, et all), then the prices would eventually drop back down to the point where individuals wouldn't even need insurance, let alone a bloated central bureaucracy. “He who pays the piper chooses the tune” is a good truism to keep in mind when one is asking for government intervention... To continue to give service to the State in enabling their control over this and most other areas is to further a reliance on the State, rather than on God (through local Churches and charitable organizations). It's also dangerous to reduce the options to “too few” (the logical fallacy of the “either/or”)- i.e., EITHER you provide health care to the poor through taxation, OR they won't get it.

Question 3:

Regarding the sacrifice to which you you refer: it must always be, by definition, voluntary, and not coerced. Not to sound harsh, but people constantly do what is in their natures- and that means not just the occasional abuse of a system, but a systemic consistent abuse- continually taking advantage of getting “something for nothing”, as we have seen empirically proven in the past 40 years of government welfare and entitlements. You see, it depends on the transfer of wealth from one sector to another, and that is government theft. Not in the payment for “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare”, of course, but in unjustly supporting one man's business by using tax dollars, including the business of health care.



"Our inconsistency on matters of governmental control: when it comes to issues of healthcare, welfare, and charity, we declare that the individuals and churches should start and finance these programs, not the federal government. However, when it comes to issues of marriage, abortion, pornography, we want the government to take legislative action. Sider says that this is an apparent inconsistency that we need to justify or jettison."

Sider is right: we aren't consistent, and we do need to hammer out a position or two. (Wow- I'm agreeing with Ron Sider on something- call the paper...) Assumptions and presuppositions galore- but let's start here: The question to ask is “What spheres of life are to be superintended by the magistrate, according to the Bible?” If you would answer that one of those areas is in the protection of human life, then that answer is correct. Romans 13 makes it clear that the magistrate is to “punish the wrongdoer”, and it's surely wrong to kill a baby. If, however, one thinks that a good answer would be that the magistrate is to openly break the laws of the land in order to keep himself in office (or for any other reason, even to 'help'), then that answer is incorrect. Why did I go to the extreme of saying that he would “ openly break the laws of the land “? Because every elected official takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, and then they all (well, almost all- Ron Paul doesn't...) go merrily on their way printing fiat (paper) money, invading other countries without declaring war or with the consent of the congress, passing laws that restrict free speech, and so forth ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The Church should indeed be consistent regarding the role of the State, but too many of us have gotten used to the status quo, and actually like the 'perks' afforded us by the government. “Thou shalt not steal”, “Thou shalt not covet”- what part of God's law don't we understand?

As an aside, we should never have allowed the government to be involved with marriage- it was instituted by God and normally done through the Church- and now we're seeing the fruit of this policy, with certain groups demanding that two men or two women living together should be defined as a marriage, and therefore entitled to the tax and insurance benefits that married people get. “He who pays...”

There is a strip club that is located about 7 miles from here in a very small town (pop. 2000) and as a result of overarching federal control the local populace cannot afford the attorney's fees to go up against the ICLU (Indiana's version of the ACLU) and rid their town of the blight. Rather than enacting some new federal prohibition, I would like to see a pullback from weird 1st amendment interpretation that is federally-accepted and allow the local area to decide their own restrictions. It's generally called the 'principle of subsidiary', wherein no greater body than is absolutely necessary exists to administer the affairs of a group of people. Chesterton was a big advocate of this, and I think it would be a great place to start in coming up with a biblical and cohesive political policy.